Understanding and Treating Anxiety in Autism, a new book released on September 21, provides a comprehensive guide to assessing and treating anxiety disorders within autistic people. One of the editors, Stephen Edelson, discusses the book and how it can help parents, professionals, and others.
Can you briefly outline your background?
I began studying autism as an undergraduate student at UCLA and later continued my research efforts as a graduate student at the University of Illinois. Over my 40+ year career, I have had the opportunity to learn about many issues related to autism and have been fortunate to work closely with many of the pioneers in the field. This includes challenging behaviors (Ivar Lovaas, Edward Carr), nutrition (Bernard Rimland), sensory processing (Temple Grandin, Lorna Jean King, Lucy J. Miller, Melvin Kaplan, Guy Berard), and neurology (Margaret Bauman, Manuel Casanova). I was named executive director of the Autism Research Institute (ARI) in 2006. ARI was established in 1967 by Dr. Bernard Rimland as a non-profit organization and is the oldest autism research organization in the world.
What was the initial inspiration behind Understanding and Treating Anxiety in Autism?
Anxiety is a one of the most debilitating, challenging-to-treat conditions suffered by children, teenagers, and adults on the entire autism spectrum. We need to understand the various underlying reasons for anxiety in autism in order to provide appropriate and effective treatment for each individual. Interestingly, many sub-fields of autism address anxiety but they administer very different treatment approaches.
Since there are numerous reasons for anxiety, the most efficient and effective treatment approach can best be accomplished by taking a multidisciplinary perspective. This includes understanding their neurology (neurostructure, autonomic nervous system), biochemistry (immune, gastrointestinal), nutritional status, styles of sensory processing, and observable behavior. Once we can identify the most likely reason(s) for anxiety in each individual, we will then be better able to develop an effective treatment plan.
We are seeing a lot of parents and teachers feeling overwhelmed right now. If they are just beginning to understand the relationship of anxiety and autism, what are some small initial steps they can take to create a less stressful environment?
The chapter authors in Understanding and Treating Anxiety in Autism describe many conditions and behaviors typically associated with anxiety including gastrointestinal dysfunction, immune impairment, sensory dysfunction, nutritional deficiencies, sleep disturbances, challenging behaviors, emotions such as worries and fears, and much more.
As evident throughout the book, the environment is often considered a major contributor to anxiety including excessive sensory stimulation, social interactions, and even the presence of toxic substances. These underlying reasons can likely be identified through neuro and biomedical assessments, direct observation (e.g., functional behavior analysis), interviews with care providers and teachers, and administering valid checklists and questionnaires.
Are there any additional resources you recommend for parents or teachers who want to create a more inclusive, welcoming environment?
Autism is a complex and multi-faceted condition. Not surprisingly, each individual on the spectrum has different needs and challenges. The Autism Research Institute’s website, www.autism.org, provides a wide range of resources for professionals, parents, and ASD individuals. The site includes many assessment tools, near weekly webcasts, and relevant articles.
Who do you think will benefit from Understanding and Treating Anxiety in Autism?
The book provides a thorough and detailed analysis of anxiety and is focused primarily on autism spectrum disorder. Given that anxiety is one of the most difficult-to-treat conditions associated with autism, any and all insight into understanding and treating this condition will be a valuable resource for physicians, therapists, parents, and those on the autism spectrum.